As expected, President Barack Obama attempted to backtrack from his statements yesterday denouncing the police for the “stupidity” of their arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates. In today’s statement, Obama insisted that when he referred to their stupidity he did not mean to malign them. While “stupidity” is not a term of endearment, it can apparently be used without any negative connotations for the arresting officers — even when linked with the nation’s history of racism and profiling abuses.
The President said “I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sgt. Crowley specifically. I could have calibrated those words differently, and I told this to Sgt. Crowley.”
The President said that he called Sgt. James Crowley to explain his intended meaning and expressed regret at the reaction of people. The President’s call is commendable and he indicated that he chose his words badly.
Others have not been so circumspect. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who referred to the arrest as “every black man’s nightmare and a reality for many black men.” That may be a bit more difficult to explain in a complimentary way.
Despite the call, President Obama also stated last night that, while he is surprised by the backlash, “I think it was a pretty straightforward commentary that you probably don’t need to handcuff a guy, a middle-aged man who uses a cane, who’s in his own home.”
Crowley has threatened a defamation lawsuit against Gates and says that, when he asked Gates to come out of the house, Gates went ballistic and starting calling him a racist. He says that Gates told him “that I had no idea who I was ‘messing’ with” and “I’ll speak with your mama outside.” Gates denies the remarks.
Obama again stated that he does not know all of the facts and “I don’t know all the extenuating circumstances, and as I said, I respect what police officers do. From what I can tell, the sergeant who was involved is an outstanding police officer, but my suspicion is probably it would have been better if cooler heads prevailed.”
I still believe that there was no likely reason for this arrest. However, I also believe that it was a mistake for the President to make comments about a case when the facts are in dispute — particularly when a friend is involved.
Moreover, if stupid is not a negative reference, it changes many famous lines such as the statement of the College President that “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” Or “stupid is as stupid does” in Forrest Gump.
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